Satanic wind turbines

When the spires of churches, abbeys and cathedrals rose against the backdrop of the pristine rural landscape of medieval Britain, no one complained about how the tall monuments to the Christian god polluted the hills and the valleys.  Nobody said in desperate anguish,

“Is now not the time to say “enough” to any further blots on our landscape?”

Well, probably not, as any medieval church nimby who dared to complain would likely be on the receiving end of medieval Christian love: your property confiscated by the church and a burning at the stake.  Fortunately, these days such complainants wouldn’t be at the vicious mercy of lords and clerics.  At worst they get ridicule.

So step up Rt Revd Martin Wharton, the Bishop of Newcastle.

In a sermon against wind farms he somehow managed to imply that wind turbines are un-Christian, claiming the demonic wind turbines are turning the North East countryside into a “disfigured industrial landscape”:

“It is a basic Christian truth that we all have a duty and a responsibility to care for and exercise wise stewardship over God’s creation, which has been entrusted to us.”

The ‘basic truth’ is that our modern society needs energy.  Lots of it.  We also need to produce energy whilst at the same time reducing our carbon emissions to try and minimise the inevitable effects of climate change.  Wind, along with solar energy, ground source heat and other renewable and low carbon energy sources each need to form part of mixed energy solution.

Wharton, along with many wind turbine objectors, seem to hold a vague romantic view of the rural landscape, putting it on a mythic pastoral pedestal.  The reality is different; our rural landscape is home to the industry of providing food, a landscape designed, shaped and developed over a thousand years to feed people and maximise profits for landowners.  Enjoying the benefits of the latest in agricultural technology: materials, machinery and an arsenal of chemicals to squeeze out every ounce of productivity, a environment equally moulded by technology as it is by social change.  Underground, the mines of the North East provided the lead, iron and coal to fuel the industrial revolution.  Electricity pylons and telephone lines carry electricity and words, roads and railways carrying people, all have had a criss-crossing visual impact on the countryside.  It’s a landscape which has been evolving for thousands of years, and we’ve become so accustomed to many of these “blots on our landscape” that they have become part of it.  It’s a delicious irony that many of those who object to wind farms in Northumberland also want to see the very same countryside slashed with a dual carriageway all the way through the county.

Much of the wealth of the Church of England has been from it’s massive property holdings, so the church holds some responsibility for the current appearance of much of Britain’s landscape.  Hypocrisy?  You betcha.  Inclosure acts took land from communities and handed it over to landowners, changing rural society forever, with open land sliced away in a thousand pen strokes, the church often profiting from such acts.  Here in South Tyneside, the Church Commissioners’ vision of a “wise stewardship over God’s creation” included a plan to build a ‘business park’ and housing over the green belt at Fellgate in Jarrow.  In Gateshead the “wise stewardship” gave us the Metrocentre, ushering in out of town shopping, increased car use and the near death of many town centres.  Even now it looks like the Church Commissioners are seeking to claim mineral rights using ancient laws, looking forward to mammonic feast at the fracking trough.

The church cannot pretend to be protectors of our landscape or our environment.

Now, with wind farms, we are seeing the next step in the evolution of our northern landscapes (and seascapes), producing energy for an ever power hungry nation.  As an industrial scale technology, the second wind energy revolution is still in it’s infancy, and many detractors like Wharton use this to imply that the technology is unproven or unable to provide energy adequately:

“There is no evidence that I have seen that suggests that wind farms will ever provide the reliable, controllable energy that is required by our society, however many there might be.

“Furthermore some studies have even suggested that far from reducing CO2 emissions, wind farms actually increase them.”

Go back a mere hundred and twenty years, and many people with a similarly Luddite bent would be saying something eerily similar about electricity.

It shouldn’t really be surprising that a cleric would try to justify his opinion using an ancient holy book – the same holy book which also gives valuable nuggets of advice about how you should beat your wife and slave, and stone children for giving you lip.  However, when claiming a lack of evidence for an emerging technology, Wharton should realise that his glass house of god doesn’t stand up to the rocks of evidence at all.

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